Tibetans around the world have marked the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of the Panchen Lama, the second most important figure in Tibetan Buddhism in a renewed appeal to China, calling for his release.
Groups advocating for Tibet have held candlelight vigils outside Chinese embassies around the world, while the top leader of the exiled government spoke of the motive behind his puzzling disappearance.
"The sole purpose of abducting the Panchen Lama is to deprive him of Buddhist studies, thereby hindering his spiritual influence on the future Tibetan generations," said Penpa Tsering, speaker of the Tibetan parliament, in Dharamshala, India, quoted by ucanews.com on May 18.
The Chinese government has ignored accusations it was behind the disappearance of the Panchen Lama, who was six years old when the Dalai Lama appointed him.
China's controlled media makes no mention of the whereabouts of the Panchen Lama, whom authorities detained on May 18, 1995.
At that time, the government said keeping the Panchen Lama, whose name was Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, had been necessary to protect him from being "kidnapped by separatists."
Later on, the government said Nyima attended school and led a normal life. Authorities never mentioned anything about him since then.
Six months after Nyima's disappearance, Beijing installed its own Panchen Lama, Gyaltsen Norbu, who underwent what the government claimed was a ceremony established during the Qing dynasty in the late 18th century.
The Beijing-backed Panchen Lama continues to be a thorny issue among exiled Tibetans and those living in the Himalayas.
But signs are point that the China-backed Panchen Lama might be breaking away from State policy.
In a rare speech before a political meeting in Beijing in March, Norbu fired off what observers interpreted as a "thinly veiled attack" on China's religious policy in Tibet.
The comments had been perceived as the first indication that Beijing's choice seemed to be straying away from the party line.
The Panchen Lama said he feared that there is a "danger of Buddhism existing in name only," as numbers of Tibetan monks continue to dwindle.
Beijing had implemented quotas on monasteries to curb the rise in the number of monks.